Chef Tracy Miller
LOCAL | Dallas
From the moment you walk into Tracy Miller's little world
of retro-Scandinavian-functionality with a whole lot of soul at
LOCAL, you are entering another world of flavor and style.
From the bowl of welcoming nuts, to the perfectly refreshing intermezzo
of grapefruit and rosemary sorbet, to the absolutely tiny thumbprint
petit four, Tracy's vision permeates every detail of the restaurant
and follows through a meditated progression to create a completely
transporting dining experience. As a chef she's a perfectionist,
skipping the bread service altogether because she's determined to
bake the bread herself, and do it right. As it is she runs the savory
and sweet side of the little kitchen, putting out beautifully composed
dishes that are built with all the delicate sensibility and sophisticated
playfulness of The French Laundry while being unmistakably
Miller began her culinary career later in life,
in the early 90’s, when she was approached by the owner of
a fully equipped restaurant space with the proposal to open a small
café. With absolutely no experience, Miller fearlessly embarked
on her first culinary challenge, finding very quickly that the hospitality
industry constantly compelled her to learn as much as she could.
Teaching herself with chef-driven cookbooks and cooking magazines,
Miller began to develop her style and anticipate her own growth
and transformation as a chef.
When the opportunity to open Seventeen Seventeen
with Dallas mentor chef Kent Rathbun arose, Miller took on the challenge
of restaurant manager and learned more about wine, restaurant design
(which would later become one of her strengths) and fine dining.
After one a half years, Miller was convinced that she had truly
found her calling and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America,
Greystone to ground herself with cooking fundamentals and techniques.
After school, Miller began to organize her business
plan for LOCAL, planting the seed of her dream in the historical
Boyd Hotel building, built in 1908. Because the building was not
a restaurant, Miller began a complete renovation in 1998, turning
the space into a beautiful, clean, and highly personalized space
while retaining its sense of history and charm. While working with
her catering company, Miller began to teach herself more while studying
Alice Waters, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Donna Hay, Thomas Keller,
and Danny Meyer, until 6 years later, in 2003, she opened LOCAL.
The straight-forward, refined, clean American dishes reflect Miller’s
approach to the craft: simple and stylish with a real focus on shaping
the guest experience with details that carry through from beginning
to end. As a working chef/owner Miller feels like she is living
the dream, and it shows in her inspired, beautiful space and the
extraordinary dishes she produces.
AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
TM: I was doing catering work
while I was developing my concept for LOCAL. I was independently
funded. I wanted to build a reputation, a destination, and a location
so I raised money through catering. In 1998 I got the space at the
Boyd Hotel, which was built in 1908, so it needed complete renovations.
In 2003, LOCAL was finally born.
AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you
hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
TM: I went to Culinary Institute of America, Greystone for continuing
education for a couple of months, but it wasn’t culinary school.
Seeing how I have struggled without experience from culinary school
makes me strongly recommend it to others. If I had to do it all
over, I would definitely have gone to school to learn the fundamentals.
AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
TM: Kent Rathbun, the chef
at Abacus in Dallas, gave me my first chance in the food
industry and I will always be grateful to him for that. I appreciate
Danny Meyer. Donna Hay from Australia has really mastered clean
and simple Australian cooking. I’m always impressed by Thomas
Keller's detail and the orchestration of his dishes. Jean-Georges
is great and Alice Waters at Chez Panisse is the ultimate
in the California culinary world.
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re
interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer
are you looking for?
TM: You have to look at their experience and figure out what they
are looking for in a job to see if they will be a good fit. There’s
way more to the hiring process than just the interview. You have
to be confident that a job candidate is clean, reliable, and dependable.
There are some key questions, though. Find out what kind of foods
inspire them if they can work with small stuff in a small kitchen.
If they can follow directions and are consistent, it’s a win/win
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
TM: Really identify what your personal vision is. Do you just want
to coast, or are you going to be truly passionate about what you
are doing? You must devour information and read any books and magazines
you can get your hands on. You have to read to learn.
AB: Which chefs do you consider to be your peers?
KC: Stephan Pyles, Sharon Hage, and Kent Rathbun.
AB: Is there any ingredient that you feel is particularly under
appreciated or under utilized?
TM: Balsamic vinegar, because it is so versatile. It can be used
for color, reductions, salads, practically everything.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
TM: Tawny port with lavender and Madeira. I’m a huge sweet
person. Chocolate and ice cream are a naturally perfect match. I
like grapefruit and rosemary a lot too.
AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
TM: A Kitchen-Aid because I’m
always mixing. I love my Global knife, too.
AB: Describe a culinary technique
that you have either created of borrowed and use in an unusual way.
TM: I like everything to be clean and tight, and tend to work on
a relatively small scale. I encourage practice and repetition on
dishes. Prepare it once, test it, and make it right.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
TM: All of Donna Hays’ books.
AB: Where to you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
TM: I always find instant inspiration on my trips to New York. Paris
and Australia are both beautiful and inspiring as well.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants-off the beaten path-in your
city? What is your favorite dish there? What are your favorite after
hour places and bars?
TM: I love Teppo Sushi
in lower Greenville. The soft shell crab, smoked salmon, and spicy
tuna are all great. Avila’s Mexican off of Maple
Avenue is good old school Mexican. Pam Haskell makes good traditional
tamales and pork and chicken enchiladas.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry
TM: In the last two to three years, I’ve seen a lot of wonderful
chefs going back to basics with modern American cuisine. Also, the
dining demographic has changed. Restaurant guests are more educated
and experienced in the culinary scene and really want to be wowed
when they go out.
AB: Who do you most admire?
TM: Professionally I admire
Donna Hay, Danny Meyer, and Jean-Georges. Personally, I love Madonna
and Marianne Williamson for her spirituality.
AB: If you weren’t a
chef what do you think you’d be?
TM: A photographer.
AB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for
TM: I think you’re successful when you can still be constantly
inspired and motivated to strive to the next level, of food, restaurants,
and your complete vision. I would like to open a bakery, but I do
so much here and the menu changes so frequently here that I have
my hands full.
AB: How are you involved in
your local culinary community? Nationally/Globally?
TM: I’ve not contributed
a lot because I just haven’t had the time. I try to do as
many charity events as I can, though.
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